A lot of people think Steve Jobs was not that smart after all. First diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2003, he waited a full nine months before he had a secret operation in July 2004. He put off the surgery advised by doctors, friends and family, and instead explored macrobiotic diets and other options, including going to “spiritualists.” When he finally agreed to the operation, his cancer had spread beyond his pancreas, hastening his impending death.
So what do you think?
What you think depends on one thing and one thing only: whether you are among those who've been very ill or not.
There is a huge chasm between the sick and the well, as big as the chasm between the 1% of rich people who run our country and the 99% who have no say and are at the mercy of the 1%.
It's about as big as the one between the quick and the dead. The quick have plenty to say about the dead, but the dead can't hear or talk back.
Number one: if you're well, the chances are good that you'll feel as ready to blame sick people for their illnesses and their choices about it, as Republicans are at blaming poor people for being poor.
Number two: if you're well, you have no idea what a person goes through who is faced with a life-threatening illness, and you can easily muster the arrogance to judge their choices.
Number three: if you're well, you're just plain lucky in your genes, environment and circumstances, and you'd do well to STFU when to comes to having opinions about others not so fortunate. You're a little like those arrogant men — Romney, Perry, Santorum, etc. — who think they have the right to decide for an entire gender, not their own, whether that gender should have a choice to abort a pregnancy or not.
Told of Jobs' choice by biographer Walter Isaacson, 60 Minutes interviewer Steve Kroft asked this question: “How can such a smart man do such a stupid thing?”
It's an obvious question, but only obvious to the well and hale. Steve Kroft has never been seriously ill, obviously, which is why he can blather forth such an arrogant question with such errant reporter's ease.
Put yourself in Steve Jobs' mind. He's been a Zen Buddhist-type all his life (which is a damn sight better than being one of the seeming majority of American holy-rolling Bible-thumping retrogrades). He is told he needs an operation. But his first reaction was to be wary because, he told his biographer: ‘I didn’t want my body to be opened … I didn’t want to be violated in that way.’”
That may not be a very scientific opinion, but it's an honest and human one. Who wants an operation if there may be another way out?
Steve Jobs did what all of us do these days. He went on the Internet. He researched like crazy. According to The New York Times, he relied on remedies such as fruit juices, acupuncture, herbs and other treatments. No doubt it infuriated and distressed his family, friends and physicians to the max. Most of them must've thought he was kinda loco. But that was Jobs — a man who lived by his own light.
Jobs also did something only someone with his wealth could. He was one of 20 people in the world to have all the genes of his cancer tumor and his normal DNA sequenced. Cost: $100,000 plus. So he wasn't against technology. He just had a healthy — or maybe an extremely inhibited — view of his physical integrity. Similarly, reggae star Bob Marley refused to have a cancerous toe cut off because of a religious belief about “not cutting the flesh,” and had an early death at age 35.
It could readily be argued that what made Jobs a different CEO from all others was his Zen Buddhism, and what made Marley a different musical genius from all others was his rasta religion.
The belief systems that made them great also hastened their deaths. Without those beliefs, they wouldn't have had the success in life that they had, and we would not even know them enough to have an opinion about their choices in death.
Now when a Christian Scientist parent refuses medical treatment of their child on religious grounds, we see fit to criminalize their behavior. That's OK, because a helpless child is endangered by their belief.
But when a mature individual refuses their own treatment for their own reasons, isn't that enough? Or are we all supposed to be all Catholic about it? The Catholic Church considers suicide a sin, because it goes against God's dominion over all life. Do you agree with the Catholics? Do you think God's dominion over your life trumps your own?
Here in America, our lauded individual freedom means we take responsibility for our own actions (unless of course we're a Wall Street banker). We should allow others the grace to decide for themselves what to do about their own lives and their own deaths.
No, Jobs wasn't stupid. He was sick, and he had the right to make his own decisions about it. You get as sick as he was, and you see what you'd figure to choose and try and do, and how you'd feel about others thinking they are better deciders about your fate than you are. According to his biographer, Jobs came to regret this particular decision, but hey, let him and his family deal with those regrets. It's none of our business, and hardly good etiquette to rush to a judgment he was old enough to make for himself.
Thinking Steve Jobs was a dumbass about his cancer exhibits three awfulnesses:
1. This is one more example of the deleterious Facebookification of our society: in today's private-is-public world, where people send pictures of their private parts to strangers, we appear to assume the constitutional right to have other people's privacy at our public beck and call. We put our own business out for all to see, and think that gives us the right to poke our itching proboscoses into everyone else's business. But Steve Jobs was a famously private person, and now that he's dead, we owe him this prerogative that he claimed for himself in life.
2. This is also another example of the continuing hippie-punching meted out to all deviants-from-the-norm by the more prissy, self-righteous, morally smug “real” Americans in our land, such as the followers of Sarah Palin and the like. Sixty years after hippies have been-and-gone for good, these witch-hunting Americans are still finding dirty hippies under their beds. What was one of the first things the media snarked about Occupy Wall Street? That the kids were a bunch of weed smokers. Well, I've slept at Zuccotti Park a few nights, and manned a table there, and not a single whiff of the goodly herb did I smell (more's the pity, but these are serious youngsters with legitimate beefs about our plutocracy, and a good chance of not only injecting the little matter of massive income inequality into our political conversation, but also a much better chance than the here-today-gone-tomorrow Tea Party of having a salutary influence on our body politic).
3. This also gives another establishment bunch, Big Pharma and the medical establishment, a hefty cudgel with which to smite all avenues of alternative medicine: hey, just look what happened to Steve Jobs. It's quite instructively hilarious that the 60 Minutes TV clip of the discussion about Job's medical choice is introduced by a Pfizer commercial. Hey, corporate America is ready to make hay out of this dude's death.
Listen, all of us will go down one day, the sick and the well. How we choose to do so is our business. It does not speak well of the well to speak ill of the ill. Let the ill speak ill of the ill, and let the well leave well enough alone. Steve's close friends and family members have a lot of their own grief to deal with without any of us adding our facile, over-bearing opinions to it.